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The USAF’s 2016 Phinal Phantom II Tour

Artcy QF-4B

The USAF’s 2016 Phinal Phantom II Tour

Photographic coverage by: Joe Kates, Ulrich Seibicke, Scott Jankowski, Mark Hrutkay, Beau Goff, Bob Shane, and Scott Zeno.

Story by Ken Kula with Steve Lewis

After 53 years of service and having five main versions of the airframe produced, the last United States Air Force examples of the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-4 Phantom II were retired from flying service in 2016. Although removed from frontline service in 1996 (when the last F-4G Wild Weasels were retired), more than 300 specialized target versions were converted from surplus airframes by BAE, and began operations during that same year with the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron (82nd ATRS). These allowed for unmanned QF-4 aircraft to be controlled from the ground, often as disposable targets for live-fire testing. The Phantom IIs were also flown by veteran pilots in various scenarios for non-destructive testing. Read more »

“Pax-16”: Something Different


Naval Air Station Patuxent River (KNHK / Trapnel Field) also known as NAS Pax River, is a United States Naval Air Station located in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Located on Chesapeake Bay, near the mouth of the Patuxent River, it is about one hour east of Andrews AFB. The big base is home to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Naval Test Pilots School, the Atlantic Test Range, and serves as a center for Test, Evaluation and Systems Acquisition to Naval Aviation of new and operational aircraft. Additional Commands include Air Test Wing Atlantic, and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). Its operational units include: Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1); Scientific Development Squadron 1 / Naval Research Lab (VXS-1, Warlocks), Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20, Force), Rotary Wing Test Squadron 21 (HX-21, Black Pack), and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23, Salty Dogs). Pax air shows have been noted for showing off special and unusual test aircraft decked out in bands of day-glow orange and special nose art, something you never get to see at other military air shows. That makes a Pax air show always special and unusual. 2016 was no exception!

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The USAF Wild Weasel Mission Surpasses Fifty Years

2016-03-10 92920 F16 USAF

Slightly more than half a century ago, a new U. S. Air Force mission - that of a high importance - was assigned to a handful of pilots and electronic warfare officers. Their mission was to offer a solution to the critical task of defeating the newest and very lethal Soviet Bloc SA-2 anti-aircraft missiles that had recently become a threat to aircraft involved in the Vietnam War. Looking back upon fifty-two years of defeating anti-aircraft missiles and other air defense weapons, the Wild Weasel mission successes have shaped air warfare tactics and weapons systems worldwide. During the early stages of the Vietnam War, American aviators met a new threat not encountered in previous conflicts. Radar-guided surface to air anti-aircraft missiles (SAMs) became a menace to aircraft as they flew missions against targets in North Vietnam. Missile sites had been detected earlier in the year, but on July 24, 1965, a Soviet-built SA-2 Guideline (NATO codename) missile shot down an Air Force F-4C Phantom II; the following day an unmanned aircraft was also lost. Read more »

A Grand Phinale at Holloman AFB

QF-4E_74-1638_Elvis_9778 Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King taxies QF-4E 74-1638 back to the ramp

The U.S. Air Force retired its final McDonnell Douglas/Boeing QF-4 Phantom IIs on December 21, 2016. The jets were the last of the line… more than four thousand airframes of various versions were manufactured for the Air Force. The first version flew in 1963, and for more than half a century, the jets and their crews performed air defense, attack, reconnaissance, Wild Weasel, and ultimately remote control drone service. The final QF-4Es in service were operated by Detachment 1, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, based at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The 82 ATRS reports to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall AFB, FL. Holloman AFB sits close to the White Sands Missile Range, where live fire exercises against unmanned drone aircraft are routinely accomplished. The final unmanned Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) mission was flown there on August 17, 2016, although manned missions, carrying various test payloads, lasted into December of that year.

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